The Davis Cup matches to be held in Prague, November 16 through 18 are special in that they mark the completion of a century of the finals in the competition. Although the Davis Cup was born in 1900 there were no matches in the 10 years of the First and the Second World Wars. The 1901 Davis Cup was won by the United States on walk-over as British Isles did not exercise the right of challenge. There was no final in 1974. In a sport noted for individual championships, the Davis Cup is an instance of a team playing for a country. On the women’s side there is the Federation Cup. The surface in Prague is hard (Novacrylic Ultracushion) and the matches will be played indoor.
The format of has changed over the years. The Challenge Round was abolished in 1972. It had prevailed earlier with the winner of the previous year given a bye till the finals. Now the world’s 16 best national teams are assigned to the World Group and compete annually. Nations which are not in the World Group play in one of three regional zones (Americas, Asia/Oceania, and Europe/Africa). The playoff round winners play in the World Group for the next year’s tournament, while the losers play in Group I of their respective regional zone.
In the years up to the middle of the 1980s USA and Australia dominated the Davis Cup. So far they have won the championships in 32 years and 28 years, respectively. Spain is number 1 now in the Davis Cup followed by the Czech Republic; USA is 6, Australia 19 and India is number 25.
India’s record in the Davis Cup was outstanding in the distant past. Thus they finished as runners-up in 1966, 1974, 1987. In 1974 India were the favourite to win but the final in South Africa was scratched after they declined to play in protest against the latter’s apartheid policy. South Africa were awarded the Davis Cup on the only occasion when they reached the finals. India competed in the World Group stage and lost to Serbia at the first round in 2011.The controversy over the partnering of Leander Paes by Mahesh Bhupathi in 2012’s Davis Cup did not help matters.
The final matches of 2012 will be between the Czech Republic and Spain. The players for Czech are Tomas Berdych, Radek Stepanek, Lukas Rosol, Ivo Minar; Spain’s challenge is led by David Ferrer, Nicolas Almagro, Marcel Granollers and Marc Lopez. Among them only Berdych and Ferrer played at the ATP World Tour Finals of 2012 in London among the best eight players of the world.
Looking at their record in the recent tennis events, I have a feeling that the matches will be fought intensely and the two nations may have one win each on the first and the third days. The outcome is quite likely to be influenced by the doubles match on the second day. If Berdych and Stepanek combine they could pose a threat to Marcel Granollers and Marc Lopez, who defeated Wimbledon champions Jonathan Marray and Frederik Nielsen at the recent World Tour Finals. The Czech pair have won every live rubber in their team’s last four ties. They have a 11-1 win-loss record in doubles. Their loss was in the 2009 final against Spain. The last time the Czechs failed to win a tie when both Berdych and Stepanek were playing was in the 2010 semi-final against Serbia. Granollers and Lopez won the World Tour Championships by defeating Mahesh Bhupathi and Rohan Bopanna.